Abnormally warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea are raising the probability of an active, early start to the hurricane season.

The official Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. However, tropical systems can and do form outside the official season. Historically, early season tropical systems that impact Georgia form in the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea.

In June, the surface-water temperatures in these regions are normally reaching the critical 82 degrees usually necessary to support the development of tropical systems.

In early May 2006, much of the Caribbean Sea had reached the critical 82-degree level. Much of the Gulf of Mexico was in the upper 70s to around 80 degrees. Thus, the regions where we expect early season tropical systems to develop are already or soon will be at or above the critical temperature level.

Not only are sea-surface-temperatures abnormally warm for early May, the entire hurricane season is expected to be very active.

William Gray, a professor in the Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science, predicts 17 named storms in 2006. That's nearly twice the annual average of 9.6. He forecasts nine hurricanes, well above the average of 5.9.

With an early, active start to the hurricane season possible and a very active season expected, Georgians should begin preparing now.

As was seen after Katrina, it may take days for help to arrive in the event of a natural or man-made, devastating disaster. Each family, then, needs the necessary supplies to support life for several days.

Either assemble or check the supplies in your all-hazards kit now, before you need it. The most critical supply is at least 1 gallon of drinking water per person per day for 14 days. More water will be needed for cooking and hygiene.

Besides water, the all-hazards kit should include non-perishable foods, a hand can opener, medications, important papers, battery-powered radio, NOAA weather radio and extra batteries. A detailed list of recommended contents for an all-hazards kit may be found at www.ready.gov/america/get_a_kit.html.

The entire state is vulnerable to impacts from tropical systems. While storm surge along the coast and wind damage receive the most attention, inland flooding is a concern statewide from the coastal plain to the mountains.

Georgia had massive flooding in 1994 from Tropical Storm Alberto. Mississippi and Louisiana experienced massive flooding from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In both instances, areas that many assumed safe from flooding were flooded. Much of the flooding occurred outside the standard 100-year flood plain.

Unfortunately, as many in Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana discovered, standard homeowners and small business insurance doesn't cover flood damage.

Because of the devastating loss caused by flooding, Georgians should seriously consider buying flood insurance, even if it's not required by the mortgage holder. It's important to remember that there is a 30-day wait period before flood insurance policies take effect. Waiting until a storm forms is too late.

Information about the National Flood Insurance Program may be found at www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/inscenter.jsp.

Federal Emergency Management Agency information on flood damage prevention may be found at www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/index.jsp.

Coastal climate information, including real-time water temperature information, may be found at www.coastalclimate.org. Real-time weather conditions across Georgia may be found at www.georgiaweather.net.